Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Come out, little skeleton 

In a front-page article, the student-run University Chronicle has extensive comments by former student Robbi Hoy about her case against Dean Richard Lewis, recently fired reassigned to special projects communicated via carrier pigeon. Hoy originally was a plaintiff in the anti-Semitism suit. She claims that Lewis withheld a grade for an independent study she took with another of the plaintiffs, Laurinda Stryker. Her grade was eventually issued, and she received $7500 and a letter of apology from the university.

The article is simply a recitation of Hoy's story, but one needs to make a careful reading here, though. A dean cannot "withhold a grade". When I write a grade for a student, it goes on an official form directly to the registrar's office. The dean has no opportunity to review the grade before then. In this particular case, Stryker stopped teaching in the middle of the spring term during which Hoy took the course, because of the stress Stryker experienced during this time. The courses had to be picked up by other faculty. Dean Lewis, as a former member of the same History Dept. that Stryker was in, pitched in to help pick up the stray bits of her workload, which included Hoy's independent study. What Hoy never says is whether Lewis received the work she had prepared for the course. She says

When my independent study was done and I was waiting for my grade, Lewis informed me that I would be getting an incomplete when I had gotten an 'A'.
But who said she had an 'A'? Stryker? If so, it was a very simple matter for Stryker to fill out the grade sheet and send it to the registrar. If she could not come to campus for some reason, she could simply mail or fax a letter authorizing Dean Lewis to sign the gradesheet with the A on her authority. Indeed, a dean submitting a grade for a class without the faculty member's signature would be a very dangerous precedent. Giving an incomplete maintains the faculty member's academic freedom to issue grades to their students as they judge them. The student handbook is quite clear
When a student who is otherwise doing satisfactory work in a course is unable, for reasons beyond her/his control, to complete all course requirements during the term, he/she may be given an "I" for incomplete. The incomplete must be removed by the student within one semester, except an incomplete given spring semester must be removed by the end of the following fall semester.
If the student never gave her work to Lewis to evaluate, and if Stryker was not coming back to teach the following semester (which she did not), he had no choice but to get her to take the course over.

This should get you to wonder, if you're with me, "why did they give this woman a grade and 'shut up' money?" Because this administration does not support its deans, and it always settles lawsuits. As Geoffrey Tabakin, another plaintiff, says in the Chronicle article, "It is not just about one dean or one student, but an administrative problem that is being placed on Lewis." Amen to that. Bet you won't hear that from Stryker or Zmora, however.

UPDATE: Another faculty member reminds me that Stryker did in fact come back to teach in Fall 2001, only to again drop out in the middle of the spring semester. So she could have handled the incomplete for Hoy at that time though by now the case was being litigated. It's unclear to me, however, whether Stryker was expected to return. It appears, based on a look at the course offerings from that term, that Stryker must have had upwards of 150 students that term left in the lurch. If Stryker issued an 'A' to Hoy, I wonder what she did with the others? And I have a note she forwarded to the campus listserv from 5/17/01, so she was not entirely incapacitated.